By Alan Freed
When parents divorce (or unmarried parents split up), one of the parents is likely to be ordered to pay child support to the other. Determining how much support is to be paid and for how long is a matter of state law. Each state has its own laws and support guidelines that are used to figure out what amount of support is appropriate, who is to pay it, and when that support obligation ends.
Here is what Missouri’s laws have to say on the subject:
First, a definition: Child support describes payments made by one parent to another to contribute to the expenses required to meet the children’s ordinary needs, including food, clothing, and shelter. Child support payments are not considered income, so the parent receiving them does not pay income taxes on those payments.
Missouri has a set of child support guidelines that help courts determine how much support should be paid. The child support calculation worksheet, also known as “Form 14,” provides a formula that takes into account each parent’s gross (pre-tax) income, the number of children being supported, the cost of medical insurance, the amount of time the children spend in each parent’s care, as well as certain other adjustments, to come up with the support figure.
Child support is not calculated as so much per child per month. Instead, if there are, for example, three children, Form 14 will calculate so much for all three children, then reduce that figure by around 18-20% for two children, and reduce the resulting figure by around 30% when only one children remains eligible for support.
If the parents are able to agree upon a figure for support that differs from the one calculated on Form 14, the court will usually approve that number. However, when the parents cannot agree, most judges will apply Form 14 strictly.
In addition to a monthly child support number, most support arrangements include some means of dividing the cost of the children’s “extraordinary” expenses, such as unreimbursed medical expenses, education costs, daycare, extracurricular activities, and summer camps. Payment for college can also be a subject of child support orders.
A child remains eligible for support until the child is “emancipated.” Emancipation for child support purposes occurs either when a child is graduated from high school or turns age 18, whichever comes later. However, if the child continues on to college, child support will continue until the child turns age 21, as long as the child remains continuously enrolled in school and receives passing grades. If the child gets married or joins the armed forces, child support will end, regardless of the child’s age or education status.
Child support payments are made to the parent and not to the child, even when a child is away at college. Although courts have the ability to order the child support payments to be made directly to children when they are at college, they rarely do so.
Determining the appropriate amount of child support involves numerous factors that should be discussed in detail with an experienced family law attorney.